Better Ways to Deliver Bad News

Posted on December 10, 2012.

Every company has to delivery bad news now and then. It seems like the end of the year is prime time for these types of communications. Maybe the company thinks if you’re in the Holiday spirit, it won’t sound so bad.   Just recently, we saw IBM's announcement of a change to their 401k match and the NY Post reported lower Wall Street bonuses this year.  Hopefully, these firms are using these tips to deliver the message to their employees.

1.    Start with the positives. Just like delivering feedback, find the silver lining no matter how bad the message may be.  In the case of IBM, when so many companies have been forced to stop matching contributions, they can say they’re not only continuing to match but keeping their match at 6%. If you’re a bank that needs to cut bonuses, start with the fact that you’re trying to avoid massive layoffs (if that’s true). Whatever the message, there’s almost always something positive that can be said.

2.    Don’t lie. If you’re moving from bi-weekly annual matching to save cash, then say so. Don’t give your employees some BS reason that they will clearly see through.  I can’t tell you how many re-organizations I went through that the company said was to improve the “client experience”. It was insulting, as everyone knew it was done to cut costs.  Be honest. People may not enjoy hearing what you have to say, but they’ll respect the fact that you didn’t try to cover up the underlying motivation.

3.    Allow people to vent. I’ve heard more than once a senior executive say, “this is the way it is, like it or leave”. Really? Is there no room to express my frustration or disappointment?  Last time I looked, your employees were human beings, not robots. Respect the fact that they will have an opinion and provide some avenue for them to express it.  Maybe sets up a twitter account or intranet portal to let people anonymously react to the news.  Forcing them to keep their emotions to themselves will inevitably lead them to boil over.

It’s a reality of today’s economy that more and more companies will be forced to deliver bad news.  But if it’s handled correctly, the fallout can be minimized.